PTSD and Travel

I love the ocean. The sound of it feeds my soul and grounds me. I can sit and watch the ocean for hours. It’s huge, sometimes angry and wavy, sometimes calm and clear. I love the taste and feel of the salt water on my skin and lips. It’s different and well, oceany. Also, I love the smell of the salt air. It touches something deep, deep inside of me. A knowing, a presence, a connectedness.

I live in MN which is nowhere near the ocean. When I get close to the ocean, and my senses begin to come alive, I know I’m now on vacation. Ahhh, vacation! I was once that person who worked to go on vacation. Road trip? Yep, I was the first person to raise my hand and jump in the car. I love to explore, I love new places, I love new people. I understand that my little corner of the world is not the be all, end all and I want to see the world.

Then I was struck with PTSD and my whole world turned upside down. The things I did without thought have suddenly become a big production. I’m plagued with flashbacks. I’m easily triggered. Not only by the typical anniversary dates but sometimes the wind can blow a certain way and BAM, I’m triggered which can quickly spiral into a flashback.

My trauma occurred over a 20 year period in many different places throughout the world. I can be triggered by certain smells, sounds, the way the wind blows, a dialect, and many other things. Sometimes, that can start a flashback, sometimes, I can get disoriented and anxious and sometimes it is just a general feeling of WTF is happening to me. When I’m at home, I can figure out ways to ground myself, get support or use one of my many tools in my distress tolerance tool-box to ride out the wave. When I travel, things are unfamiliar and it takes longer to come out of a trigger.  I love being in new and different places. That is part of the travel experience.

Another symptom of my PTSD it that I become very overwhelmed in busy, loud, places. Restaurants are one example. It’s really easy for me to get overwhelmed by too many choices. Menus can be a PTSD nightmare. There are so many coices and I can’t decide, my brain starts to shut down. At home, I can go to the same restaurants and figure out what to order. If it’s a new restaurant, my support system will nonchalantly offer me a few choices that they have scoped out on the menu and know what I will eat. If I’m with someone I don’t know very well, I will do that thing that I do, “what are you having? That sounds great, I’ll have that too.” When I travel, most places are unfamiliar, so I’m overwhelmed just by virtue of being somewhere new and different.  I love trying new food and going to restaurants that I wouldn’t have in my hometown. That is part of the travel experience.

Airports are triggering for me. The noise, the crowds, the upheaval, the lines. The anticipation of sitting in a tiny chair for a four-hour flight. The same anxiety that most other’s feel at airports are really pronounced for me. My anxiety is ramped up because my perpetrators often put me on a plane and me sent all over the world. So just by virtue of walking into an airport, it’s triggering.  I love the speediness of getting to your vacation destination by flying, and how wonderful to be in this machine that flies in the sky. That is part of the travel experience.

My support system is different when I travel. For my family, it’s often a good respite for them when I go out of town for a few days. They get a break. I don’t feel bad about that, and they don’t feel bad about that fact either. It’s a necessary part of caring for someone who has an illness. It’s not an easy decision for them to let me go off without one of them with me. So a lot of moving parts has to happen before I can hop on the plane. My support works together to provide text support, phone or facetime calls with regular check-ins. I have to be mindful and respect the times that they are available for support, especially with a time change. It feels uncomfortable for me to know that I have to have this support. I want to just jump on a plane, hide out at a beach for a few days and think, write, read, relax. It’s part of my fantasy travel experience. But that is what is part of the give and take if I’m to travel right now and I’m grateful for the opportunity and the support.

Today, I am going to get on a plane and visit my friend who is sharing her beach house with me for a few days. I’m excited and know we are going to have a great time. I had to promise my support team that I wouldn’t wander around California alone and had to make sure my friend was going to be with me during the days. I had to promise to eat, and let my friend know that if I get overwhelmed at a restaurant that I need help choosing something. My tendency would be to not eat, and that’s not acceptable.  I have to make sure I’m in contact with the people here who support me.

I understand that traveling with all my PTSD symptoms front and center is a huge challenge. But, I’m determined to have a great time, get my spirit renewed at the ocean, and spend some wonderful girl-time with my good friend. I got the all clear to go after a dicey few days dealing with triggers. This evening I intend to look at the beautiful palm trees and have my senses filled with the healing ocean air.

Traveling with PTSD is certainly a challenge, but not impossible.













36 thoughts on “PTSD and Travel

  1. Pingback: Why your health should never stop you travelling - 10 Truly Inspirational Travel Health Stories - The Globetrotter GP

  2. I’ve never been to a legit beach before. This usually surprises everybody. Something tells me I’m going to love it, so I’ve decided to save my first amazing ocean experience until Thailand.

    I love your attitude on traveling with PTSD. It’s really cool to see you not letting anything getting in your way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing the anxiety you feel when traveling. It opens up a great conversation, and I applaud you for taking this courageous step. I hope you had a great time, and enjoyed every second. Above all, thank you for your service.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this! You’re so brave, I have just a few of these symptoms – not eating when triggered and having a hard time in loud, noisy places are some.

    Thank goodness for your support system, but even better is your strength with moving forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Caroline, I appreciate this so much. Life in general has become so complicated, but adding in travel and all that entails can feel so stunting. Its easy to go down the shame spiral of, why cant I do this, its a vacation and I should feel so grateful and here I am mucking it up. I love that you understand its doable with solid support. Im both grateful and understand that Im dealing with an illness so things get more complicated. I naming this keeps the conversation going and helps remove stigma. Thank You so much! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I so relate to this post and the problems of travelling with PTSD and how you get triggered when you are travelling. For over 5 years I could not even leave my house overnight because of my PTSD let alone leave my town or go abroad. It took weeks to prepare for that first trip away from my home overnight and like you I had to have a solid support system in place to allow me to do it. Then I left my town overnight and eventually went abroad for the first time in over 6 years in September 2015. I had to have a massive support structure for that but I did it. And the next time I went away over Christmas I was much less afraid and had to do far less preparation. You can travel with PTSD it just takes more preparation and support.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Lifeisfullofsurprises!

    Awesome! I’m lucky that I live 10 minutes from both the local river and the ocean, and I love just sitting in a shady spot overlooking the ocean & reflecting on life 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh Ann you ALWAYS make me smile! I will definitely write about my tool box. I’m loving the ocean sound and the beauty. I will admit, when it got to loud and super busy with people it became a bit overwhelming and I had to move on. But still I made it here late last night, saw palm trees, smelled the air and knew it was okay. Plus I had lots and lots of texting support at the airport and throughout the day, reminding me that I’m okay. Whew! Have a good weekend my friend. Alexis

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ann E. Laurie

    Oh my gosh, I hope you have the best time!! I love the ocean, too. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

    Sometime, please write about your stress tolerance tool box. I’d love to know anything that’s worked for you to bring you back into the moment or into your body or back to center or into greater calm quickly when you are out in public. For me, if my husband is with me, just telling him where I’m at and taking a hold of his hand helps. And breathing. Deep breathing. When we fly to AZ in August, I’ll have my face in my Kindle and turn down my hearing aids in the airport and on the plane. I used to dab a beautiful aftershave on my wrist and smell that and it would help. Loud overlapping noises is a trigger for me.

    Anyhoo, love your post. I hope you are on the beach right this minute.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Lifeisfullofsurprises!

    I love this post! Not only because you were able to describe your experiences with PTSD, but because it made me realise all the things that occur to me on a daily basis due to me having PTSD, depression & anxiety brought on my trauma. It all makes sense now. Thank you and enjoy your vacation 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hope you have a great trip!! It sounds like the house will be quiet. Getting there could be a challenge. I think it is great that you have the courage to go. I hate going out to eat. One thing I have learned is to look at online menus before I go. That way I know what to order when I get there!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thank You! Im tres jealous right back at you, England and the coast?!? 😃 Im going to take your words of support with me, they mean so much as we journey together. ❤️


  13. bodyelectricweb

    I think it’s fantastic that you’re taking this trip! and confidently finding ways to work around your PTSD symptoms, so you’re still able to do things that you know will heal and refresh and replenish you. 😊 I’m sure you’ll experience a mental health benefit despite the challenges. Wishing you a wonderful time in the beach house with your friend. I’d love to go to California, tres jealous!!! Luckily I live on the coast so have the beaches on my doorstep, but this is England, not California!- the water is still freezing in the middle of August lol! Have a brilliant time Xxx

    Liked by 3 people

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